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b>Question: What weighs less than a pound, supports up to 30 pounds of weight, has a volume of 2,000 cubic inches (32 liters), and has a waist belt? Answer: The best backpack in the whole wide world!

In my never-ending quest to lighten my pack while increasing my comfort, I had come to an impasse with a foundational piece of gear-my backpack. I wanted a pack that could be used for warmer-weather, week-long backpacking trips that weighed less than a pound. There were a few commercially-available packs out there that met those requirements, but most lacked a critical component-a suspension system that kept the pack's weight off my shoulders and transferred it to my waist belt.

The lightest pack I owned was a GoLite Jam 2. I liked it because it had a winged waist belt, side pockets, plenty of room (up to 3,000 cubic inches), and weighed just over a pound (22 oz.). Although it was a frameless back, I was able to transfer its weight to the ample waist belt by putting my closed-cell-foam sleeping pad inside the pack to act as a frame. My most-used sleeping pad since the '80s had been a ¾ length RidgeRest, which works great for giving support to frameless packs.

Then, a few years ago, it happened to me. I watched my revered scoutmaster go through it and even my dad, but I never thought it would happen to me. I remember clearly the morning I woke up and realized I was "that guy". I sat up in my shelter after a restless night's sleep and said, "This sleeping pad sucks!" I had come to the point in my life where a comfy air mattress outweighed the benefits of a super-light sleeping pad. From that point forward, my sleeping pad could no longer serve as a makeshift pack frame.

Some backpackers don't worry about carrying a pack's weight on their hips. They carry packs up to 30 pounds on their shoulders with no waist belt at all. Maybe if my pack was light enough, I could be one of those guys. Then it wouldn't matter that I didn't use a closed-cell-foam sleeping pad. I bought myself the now-extinct GoLite Ion backpack that weighed only 9 oz.

I used it for the first time on an overnight backpacking trip to Pine Flat along the Illinois River in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness of Southern Oregon. It was 5.5 miles and my pack weighed about 12 pounds including water. With limited success, I tried to put some of the pack's weight on my hips by fastening around my waist its 1-inch webbing waist belt. Although the hike was pleasant because my pack was light, I received a painful affirmation in my lower back that I was not made to carry a pack's weight on my shoulders.

Had I finally hit my lightweight limit? Had my desire for comfort relegated me to the world of two-pound internal-frame packs? It seemed that way. Then, one day, while shopping for a new pack for my wife, a solution presented itself in the form of a technological innovation touting itself as Granite Gear's competitive advantage. Granite Gear had partnered with Klymit (who are best known for their

high-pressure-air sleeping mats) to make the Airbeam pack frame.

This brilliant little piece of gear weights 3 oz. (including the pump bulb) and effectively supports loads of up to 30 pounds. Of course, I couldn't just relay on the testimony of the post-pubescent pimply-faced sales person, I had to test it for myself.

I loaded up a Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60 Ki (the pack I eventually bought for my wife) with about 30 pounds. I left in the plastic framesheet that comes standard with the pack, and put it on. Looking in the mirror, I could see the pack frame collapse under the load transferring much of the pack's weight onto my shoulders. Then I took off the pack, slipped out the plastic framesheet, and put in an inflated Airbeam frame. When I looked in the mirror again, I saw that the Airbeam kept the pack ridged, keeping the weight off my shoulders. Yureka!

I bought the Airbeam frame for $50 and started imaging up the best backpack in the whole wide world. It had to be capacious enough to carry my equipment and food for up to five nights. It had to have a waist belt that allowed me to comfortably carry the pack's weight on my hips. And it had to weigh less than a pound!


  • Introduction
  • The Quest for the Best Pack

# WORDS: 1720
# PHOTOS: 14

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